Bioprinting breast implants with patients’ own cells

thomas boland

Thomas Boland, Ph.D., professor of metallurical and materials engineering

Bioprinting is one of the more miraculous niches of 3D printing, as it’s bound to deliver useable human organs in a short decade. Other than operating in three dimensions, what really makes bioprinting exciting is its high level of biocompatibility.

With bioprinting, live cells are manipulated into 3D shapes via methods similar to fused deposition modeling and inkjet printing. The live cells can range between skin cells and embryonic stem cells, AND they can be the patient’s cells. If they’re the patient’s cells, the patient’s body has a much lower chance of rejecting whatever bioprinted thing has been implanted. The founders of a company called TeVido BioDevices are working to apply that principle to printing breast implants for cancer patients.

Inventor of the technology and Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of TeVido, Thomas Boland, Ph.D, is the Director of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). His patent-pending method of bioprinting involves using a modified HP Deskjet 340 inkjet printer to distribute proteins that are held in a mixture of gelatin and alginate (long carbohydrate molecules) onto a specialized gel.

TeVido recently won a $150,000 Phase I SBIR grant to further develop the technology, and Co-founder Laura Bosworth-Bucher comments, “We highlighted the idea that ours could be a platform and picked a target market. Once we get this working, it could be used in a large portfolio of applications. We’re focusing on filling a small tumor void as our first product.”

As far as that first product is concerned, the award abstract reads, “The long-term objective of this research is to build an autologous tissue structure that can integrate more naturally with the patient than conventional products. The proposed research will use a new bioprinting technology to create capillary channels that are hypothesized to anastomose with host tissue quickly, thereby allowing lab-grown tissues to survive once transplanted to the patient.” See, liposuctioned fat that’s retransplanted has a tendency to reabsorb back into the flesh, which isn’t conducive to maintaining a desired shape; “Fat gets reabsorbed when we want it to stay in place and be predictable,” Bosworth-Bucher relates.

Regarding the “large portfolio of applications,” the abstract explains: “The broader impact/commercial potential of this project will improve the quality of life for people suffering from deformity due to cancer tumor removal, congenital defects and traumatic injuries… The commercial impacts of this research will be the availability of an autologous option for women in the lucrative $10B (US) market for breast augmentation.” Lucrative, indeed.

The testing is currently being performed on mice, but the Phase II grant that’s been applied for will probably observe the effects on humans. The success of their research would mean less women opt for mastectomies, as tissue reconstruction would become cheaper and yield more consistently desirable results. Considering that around 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, this bioprinting technology could improve the lives of millions. And there’s no reason this couldn’t be expanded to reconstructive surgeries in general, which could help millions more.

h/t: Med City News

  • Natalie

    Will this technology also be useful for printing hip and/or buttocks augmentation? I’ve been a stick all my life. Diet and exercise over the years haven’t helped. I would really like to have a bit of a figure, so if this technology can help, I’d like to know if so and when you think it might become available? And, compared to current hard silicone, which is the only material that can be safely used for these procedures, how do you estimate the 3D bio-printing technology will/does compare with the current material and technology?

    • Cameron Naramore

      Well, I’m not a scientist, nor an analyst. I can only make wild guesses based on what I’ve read. Those guesses would be that something like what you’re talking about may be available in five years, perhaps a little less. As it’s predicted to be preferred over silicon due to (potentially) high biocompatibility and (probably) improved results, that implies a good return on investment because the plastic surgery market is a profitable one, so the R&D of the technology should be well funded.

      • Natalie

        I think your assessment is about as good as any. I’ve read about numerous up-and-coming technologies, plus quite a few forums, on this topic in recent months, and your articles on this site, I believe, offer the best information I’ve seen yet. My guess is the tech will be ready in the timeframe you posted, and available for “mainstream” within 2-3 years afterwards. The FDA approval might be a sticking point, but the whole 3D bio-printing might be approved on a “class” basis, like the DEA and company did for drugs in the late 60’s / early 70’s.

        Thanks for your reply, insight, and work and research in these subjects. 🙂

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  • Cindy Humphreys

    It’s my understanding that you have used mice for testing breast augmentation. How are they compared to the silicone? When are you going to screen for human test subjects? I would like to do more studying on the subject but would be willing, as I’m sure you’ve heard more and more each day, to be a test subject for breast augmentation studies. I’m curious if they continue to grow and if so, when do they stop growing?

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  • Barbara

    This technology should definitely receive research funding from the US military and Wounded Warrier Project. Imagine the total healing if an injured soldier could receive a facial skin graft that looks like the person before he was burned on a battlefield?